Saturday, October 27, 2007

Recent Discussions Outside This Blog

Here are a few of the discussions I've recently been in that have (a) occurred outside this blog, and (b) taken up the blogging time I would normally use on this blog:

In comments on this post at Alanyzer, I offer some worries and objections relating to an argument by Alan Rhoda against mind-body physicalism. While not convinced by physicalism myself, I thought there were some serious worries about the argument as well as some probable mistakes. Alan was gracious enough to respond to one or two of the worries but left the majority of the criticisms untouched.

For some older stuff from that same blog, see this post where I get into a discussion about the nature of philosophical reduction. See also this post where I critique the arguments in that post that are supposed to be in favor of a tensed theory of time.

Most recently, I've been having a discussion about this post at metaphysical values over whether a certain kind of distributional property could serve as a good presentist truthmaker for past-tensed claims.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Representation, Description and Motivation: A Quick Note

Some quick ideas I'm trying out:

Anytime something is linked directly to motivation or action in a timely way (i.e., tensed or first person representations, ethical representations maybe, etc.), the representation in question which represents the motivating or action-involving fact to the thinker is not fully descriptive but is linked to some outside entity in a more direct, not-so-description-determined way. Tensed representations link us in direct, non-descriptive ways to times, first-person ones link each one of us to ourselves, and so on.

This might give some weight to moral realists or even moral naturalists. For judgment internalists, "moral representations" are ceteris paribus intrinsically motivating. Moral antirealists often point this out to try to shore up their claim that moral "representations" aren't really representational of any kind of moral reality after all. And even moral realist non-naturalists may want to press the Open-Question argument and point out that it is always open to ask whether any particular natural properties is really good. And this argument may be even stronger if it is pointed out that goodness is motivating for us whereas we may not necessarily feel so motivated when it comes to some merely natural property.

The paragraph above the previous one may hold some kind of ammunition for the realist or naturalist against their foes. Moral terms or concepts may indeed not be fully descriptive and yet may refer perfectly well to particular properties - even natural ones. These properties, perhaps, would not under a non-moral description be intrinsically motivating. What moral representation does is put the representation in a form where we can be linked to these moral properties more directly, with less mediation by description, so that these properties can motivate us in the proper way similar to the way a third-person description of the same fact would not motivate me or produce actions of mine in the same appropriate way as a first-person representation of that fact would.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Notes on Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil Chapter 6

Like the previous chapter (reviewed here and here), chapter 6 of Boyd's book has a lot of interesting stuff in it. However, as usual, there's a lot of looseness, unclarity, confusedness, and so on in his exposition and argumentation. I'll give a few examples. To defend his theory against the charge that whether or not there's free will in the libertarian sense, God could just remove the bad guys from the world or do some other sort of intervention, Boyd postulates that God simply can't terminate the bad guys or interfere with them. He says that it is a "metaphysical implication" of creating free beings that they have their free power to influence over a certain amount of time. So the fifth part of his theory is (TWT5) "The power to influence is irrevocable". At first, this is a bit hard to swallow. It doesn't seem all that hard to remove people's power to influence things. Knock them over the head and you've disabled them for a time, kill them and you have removed that power permanently (that is, putting aside complications relating to any sort of afterlife). So to say that God can't in the sense that he literally isn't able to interfere with bad people's bad free actions seems preposterous.

Often, though, it isn't quite clear what exactly Boyd really wants to say. Sometimes he wants to make this a metaphysical thing as if creating a free person at a given time made it metaphysically impossible to take away that freedom or that person, other times he seems to interpret this "can't" that applies to God in a moral way - that is, God can't interfere in the sense that he has obligated himself not to and must, in virtue of his moral character, stand by his commitment. In these times, Boyd sounds pretty much like he's saying something like what I said here. As usual, though, Boyd doesn't seem to really know exactly what he's trying to say or argue and runs together these two different ideas.

One thing he may mean is simply that in order to count as free one must be freely and uncoercedly self-determining up to the very end of one's self-formation. But then it's not clear what to make of people who have been taken out of the world prior to this point. Or why, if we are justified in interfering with people using their freedom to hurt others, God isn't also. Or why, if God isn't, how we could be in any sense. Boyd never really answers this question, though he does mention it - but I take this to be the hardest point of his theodicy to really address.

Or at least one of them. What about Satan and his angels? Boyd seems to think that they are past the point of redemption - their time of self-making is up and they've made themselves irredeemably bad. So why does God tolerate their continuing influence? Boyd here just uses his TWT5, but on Boyd's own view, Satan's time of freedom being over, there's nothing in interfering with Satan that conflict with TWT5. After all, it is also a part of Boyd's theory that (TWT6) The power to influence is finite. That is, one only has a finite time span to be free to make oneself. And Satan's is up, so that pretty much ruins Boyd's main argument regarding Satan's current continuing and active influence.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dispensationalism and the Interpretation of Scripture Part 4: The People of God, Israel and the Church

It's been over a month since my last post in this series, so I thought I'd start it back up again. Is there a single people of God like most Christians throughout history have believed or is there two as many dispensationalists believe? Dispensationalists, reacting both to an oversimplified identification between Israel and the Church that is sometimes found and to the view that Israel has been cast aside and is no longer God's people, have in general fallen all the way off the other side of the horse and imposed an oversimplified and massively wrong division between the two, sometimes even going so far as to say that the two have entirely different destinies, covenants, or even administrations of salvation. I think dispensationalists are right to make some distinction between Israel and the Church but they go wrong when they posit to peoples of God instead of one. I don't have enough time to go through this topic in enough detail to really do it justice and list all the relevant Scripture and such, but I'll outline some of my thoughts on this.

In the Old Testament, there was a single people of God, Israel. But then of course there's Israel and then there's Israel. Some within the group were considered truly part of God's people in a way others were not even if those others were supposed to be - some were the remnant or the true Israel. And not all in this group were necessarily ethnic Israelites either since Gentiles too could eventually become incorporated into this body (indeed, many non-Israelites were among those who journeyed out of Egypt and took part in the great events and covenants at the founding of Israel as a nation and people of God). So from the very beginning, Israel was God's people but this people, ethnic Israelite or not, also incorporated converted non-Israelites. At this time (or at least it had become so by NT times), it was generally expected, though, that the converted would combine religious identification and ethnic identification by, among other things, submitting to the right of circumcision and "becoming a Jew". In Jesus' time, Gentiles who wished to convert were also baptized as a right of passage into God's people.

The Old Testament spoke of a time, though, when other nations would call on God and God would acknowledge them and make them his (in fact, this was a main reason of why God chose Israel in the first place - as a beginning to something greater that was meant to sweep out even unto the Gentiles). Somehow, they would follow the Law or join with Israel and yet somehow not exactly. How all this would work out and what it would look like was yet to be revealed.

In the New Testament, we do not see the creation of a new people of God. What do we see instead? We see Jesus, the True Israel himself, taking on the role of Israel and its duties and reforming God's people, Israel, about himself. And what do we begin to see? Non-Jews and non-Israelites seem to be allowed inclusion into this people but the ethnic identification with the Jews is not required of them. As the True Israel, incorporation into Jesus means incorporation into the one people of God, so these Gentiles truly became co-citizens in God's people with their Jewish brethren who were already there for generations. This incorporation therefore means a kind of incorporation into the covenants and promises of the Old Testament. Jesus is the vine, Israel, and we, both Jew and Gentile are the branches of God's people. God's one people are a holy nation, a priesthood, elect, etc. - all terms for Israel now applied to anyone who is incorporated into Jesus by faith in him. The old uses of the Law, its ethnic particulars for the Jews at the point in history before the cross, are now past and it takes on a new role suitable for people of all ethnicities as the people of God is expanded greatly beyond its previous ethnic boundaries.

Jesus' followers, the true Israel, were at first almost entirely Jewish but soon they began actively converting Gentiles and Paul championed full inclusion of the Gentiles in God's people on the basis of faith and declared that they did not need to follow the ethnic particulars of the Law and become Jews - God accepted both Jew and Gentile on the same basis, that of faith. So now, this one people of God which previously was almost entirely roughly identified as Israel included a lot of Gentiles, thus expanding God's people beyond ethnic Israel to form one entity neither Jewish nor Gentile but rather universal and transcending the distinction (and indeed transcending all ethnic distinctions and particularities) - a new thing called the Church which included both. The old covenants, promises, etc. are thus expanded and transcended so that God is no longer simply interested in particular promises to a particular people but more grand, larger promises to all peoples. The promise of the land for the Jews, for instance, is now transcended, and God's people, Jews and non-Jews, are promised the entire earth.

So, as Paul said, Gentiles have been grafted onto the plant, Israel. But some other branches have been cut off because of unbelief - the unbelieving Jews. This, of course, does not mean God is done with them. No, they are the natural sons, the natural branches - they belong on the tree and are meant, if they are willing, to be regrafted. So as you can see, things are not nearly so simple as many dispensationalists make it. Yes, there is some discontinuity between Old Testament Israel and the Church and between how things went on with each. But that doesn't in any way mean that there are two peoples of God. Believing Israel is still the core, the natural trunk of the tree or the main branches of the vine - the others having been cut off - and "the Church" is simply the name for this new thing, this new stage of God's People which transcends all ethnic and national distinctions.

Previous posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Final post in this series: "The Tribulation and Rapture"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Chavez Finally Goes Too Far!!!

According to recent news, Venezuela's radical socialist president, Hugo Chavez, has announced a series of value-based reforms in order to get his country in line with his own tastes. He's done a lot of bad or crazy stuff in the past, but this time he's truly sunk to a new low and shown himself for the true dictator and ultimate evil curmudgeon that he is. CNN reports that "The president has a long list of ... recommendations: Don't douse foods with too much hot sauce, exercise regularly, eat low-cholesterol foods, respect speed limits."

Don't douse foods with too much hot sauce!?! Who does he think he is!?! What an outrage! As if there was really such a thing as too much in the first place! It is time, O Venezuelans to rally against this infernal, cruel and petty dictator, this enemy of hot sauce! Foreign lovers of hot sauce, unite in solidarity with our oppressed Venezuelan brethren!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Presentism and the Direction of Groundings

Presentism (or any other theory that's antirealist about the past), at least in many versions, does not seem to be able to make a distinction between an old universe and a new one which just recently popped into existence with all the appropriate evidence for the past already there. Consider, for instance, a view according to which current dispositions or the state of the universe plus laws of nature provide the truth makers for past-tensed statements. Now take some statement S about the distant past and the presentist's candidate for the truth-maker of S, D (some disposition or state plus laws). It seems perfectly possible that D might be part of the present time and yet S be false - that is, that D might be there and yet the universe could have been very different than it had been or at least that it had not actually existed until very recently. For instance, God could have just created the universe ten minutes ago complete with all the dispositions, laws, et cetra which the presentist takes to make true statements about what the universe was like, say, ten years ago. But of course, if God did in fact just create the universe all such statements will fail to be true. So any such proposal for the truth-maker of a claim like S is going to fail since it seems possible for the truth-maker to be there without in fact making S true.

Of course, now that I've mentioned God here, it might be suggested that God himself could provide a way out of this - God is sort of supposed to be the ultimate ground of reality anyway, so why not let some state or decision of God ground claims like S? But for almost any candidate, it seems hard to see why it would be that kind of state that does the grounding and even once we have that kind narrowed down we may still wonder why this particular state grounds the truth of some statements and not others or why God has some particular contingent grounding-states and not others. If it is something under God's control or subject to his decision then it seems we have an extreme kind of super-Calvinistic view that even many Calvinists would cringe at (though perhaps not all - even though even the staunchest probably should) and certainly it would not leave any room for moral responsibility.

The best candidate, then, appears to be God's memories. That is, God's memory that p grounds its having been the case that p. But this clearly won't work. After all, a state's being a memory that p is itself at least partially grounded in its having been the case that p. And this is incompatible with what was just said about memories grounding it having been the case that such and such. So if we do appeal to memories of God, we cannot appeal to them as memories - they must be some more basic state which, because they ground the past facts, are therefore memories since the past facts ground their even being memories. But now we are left with the same question as before as to how we are to identify such states and why God even has them. And suddenly using states of God no longer looks so much different from using any other piece of reality which we are supposed to hook up in a systematic way with the truth and falsity of past-tensed sentences.

In general, presentism and its ilk is weird because of all the required dependencies of the past on the present rather than vice versa as is most plausible. Indeed, this failing of presentism - which seems to be required since presentism only allows present things to do any grounding in the first place - is what seems to give rise to all the problems I just mentioned above. And it seems crucially connected to the problem I've noticed in this earlier post about how presentists and the like cannot allow for moral responsibility for the past.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Notes on Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil Chapter 5B

Sorry about the long time between posts - I've been out of town for a week.

Last time, I talked about the first major section of chapter 5 of Boyd's book. Today I finish my discussion of that chapter. From here on out (though with some bumps along the way), Boyd begins to really shine as he really starts to work out his theodicy in greater detail without all the open theistic baggage weighing him down. He begins the final half of this chapter addressing the question of why, given that we should be free so that we can love or reject God, do we have such a strong power to reject, kill, and do other bad stuff to other people. His answer relies on the idea that God didn't just create isolated individuals for one-on-one relationships. Free creatures were created to live in a society bound together by relationships and mutual responsibility for and towards one another. We are supposed to freely love and care for one another. But to be free love and bless means that we are also free to hate and curse and when we begin to start down that dark path, everyone suffers at the hands of everyone else whether directly or indirectly and we share a collective responsibility for much of the evil that transpires. Some of what he says about this even directly reflects some of the same kinds of things I've said in this previous post.

The one major logical mistake he makes is with his TWT3 - "Risk entails moral responsibility" - which is neither supported by what he says nor is in the least bit true. I'm pretty sure he had something else in mind when he wrote this. Other than this, though, this second half of chapter 5 is very well-done and I think there's really a lot of truth in it or at least is pointing us in substantially the right direction.